Visit France with FranceThisWay

One of the harder aspects of running francethisway involves putting on a pair of sunglasses, turning up the air-conditioning in the car, and whistling along the motorways to visit sun-baked resorts and villages, preferably with loud music on the stereo. I call it work although to an outsider it might not always look like it.

The autoroutes are usually pretty empty, especially outside July and August, so it’s quite tempting to go a teeny bit above the speed limit – a temptation I try to resist since paying speeding fines after being caught by a speed camera is not very amusing. Or cheap.

In reality I would guess that at least 90% of French motorway traffic drives along at almost exactly the speed limit* so there is usually a pretty constant stream of traffic going at the same speed and it is obvious when someone is getting a bit carried away.

* Motorway speed limits in France are 130 kmh if it isn’t raining, 110 kmh if it is. My daughter who has studied the highway code insist this 20 kmh reduction applies on any road when it is raining, not just motorways, so a 90kmh zone becomes a 70 kmh zone etc, although I have never seen this mentioned on a road sign so not quite sure if it is true…

During a long journey there are usually a few drivers who drive at much more than the speed limit, typically young men and curiously often they seem to be in black audis…but I digress and anyway for the most part everything is calm on the roads.

Then summer arrives, along with foreign drivers. Dutch, English, Belgians, Swiss, Germans and Italians start to fill up the motorways and the speeds go up. In part this is because foreign drivers know that usually if they are caught speeding by a speed camera the ticket will be ‘lost’ by the system because speeding fines are never passed on to other countries.

However, from November 2013 there is a new EU Directive that says that speeding fines in one European country can be passed on to drivers from other countries which will slow down certain motorists – but the UK has opted out of the directive. Of all the madcap EU directives that come out of Europe I’m not quite sure why the UK (along with Denmark and the Republic of Ireland) thought this was the one they should opt out of but so be it…

I suppose that the UK opting out of this EU directive also means that if I drive my (French registered) car in the UK I can ignore all the speed cameras and drive as fast as I like because I will never get the fines. Yippee?

So that leaves the French police with a new challenge: how to make sure these speeding fines do get paid. The new rule now being enforced on UK drivers who are caught speeding, and the reason why this might affect you when you visit France, is that the fine has to be paid in cash, immediately. I know what you are thinking:

- first you are going to claim that you don’t understand what the gendarmes are saying to you. Be warned that the gendarmes involved have been selected in part because of their excellent English language skills

- next you are going to claim that you have no cash. Unfortunately they will take you from your vehicle to the nearest bank or cashpoint, so that isn’t going to help much either

- in any case, if you just can’t or won’t pay or keep making excuses they will seize your vehicle, perhaps taking you to a bus station if you ask nicely…

As I understand it this won’t affect speeding fines where you drive too fast passed a fixed camera, but only when the police are hiding behind a tree or following you in a car. Unfortunately they are now quite good at both of these, and drivers coming in the opposite direction often no longer flash to warn you there is a speed trap ahead, because that also carries quite a serious penalty…and yes, the gendarmes are deliberately targetting overseas drivers so don’t say you weren’t warned!

Last word of caution – the 50 kmh speed limit in a French town carries on until you have passed the sign with a big line through the town name, often a long way passed the last house in the town or village, so it is extremely easy to find you are doing 95 kmh thinking you are in the countryside, when really you are in a 50 kmh zone. Be warned, doing 45 kmh over the limit in a town in this way will get you a very unpleasant fine! The usual on the spot fine of 90 euros rises to a fine of 750 euros and a seized car if you do more than 40 kmh over the limit.

PS don’t forget that (1) not having a yellow reflective jacket and warning triangle in the car, (2) holding a mobile phone while you are driving, (3) using a radar detector or warning system in the car, or (4) drinking very much alcohol at all before driving (the limits are about half those in the UK) can also all get you in trouble. Happy holidays!

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